A new study under­taken by the University of Bordeaux in con­junc­tion with other research cen­ters in France sug­gests that older adults who take care of their heart are less likely to develop demen­tia than peo­ple who neglect their car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.

Even when peo­ple didn’t hit opti­mal tar­gets for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, they could still ben­e­fit from the attempt.- Cecilia Samieri, The University of Bordeaux

The study focused on seven rec­om­men­da­tions from the American Heart Association (AHA) for achiev­ing opti­mal car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. The AHA rec­om­men­da­tions were: not smok­ing; tak­ing reg­u­lar exer­cise; eat­ing a diet rich in fish, fruit and veg­eta­bles; main­tain­ing a healthy weight; and man­ag­ing blood pres­sure, blood sugar and cho­les­terol lev­els within healthy ranges.

The study fol­lowed for an aver­age of eight and a half years 6,626 peo­ple aged 65 or older who didn’t have demen­tia at the start of the research. During the period about 11 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants (745 peo­ple) devel­oped demen­tia.

The researchers dis­cov­ered that with each addi­tional heart-health rec­om­men­da­tion par­tic­i­pants met, they were 10 per­cent less likely to develop demen­tia. It was found that each rec­om­men­da­tion par­tic­i­pants achieved led to cor­re­spond­ingly bet­ter scores in cog­ni­tive tests.

Adequate blood flow is essen­tial to good heart and brain health but over time blood ves­sels can nar­row and harden result­ing in dam­age known as ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis which can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and cog­ni­tive decline.

Atherosclerosis can be kept at bay by main­tain­ing a healthy lifestyle and keep­ing blood pres­sure, blood sugar and cho­les­terol lev­els within safe ranges. High blood pres­sure, raised cho­les­terol lev­els and excess blood sugar can dam­age blood ves­sels lead­ing to com­pli­ca­tions that reduce the flow of blood to the brain.

The study was led by Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux who told Reuters, “Even when peo­ple didn’t hit opti­mal tar­gets for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, they could still ben­e­fit from the attempt. From a prag­matic and pub­lic health per­spec­tive, pro­mot­ing change in car­dio­vas­cu­lar health from poor to inter­me­di­ate lev­els may be more achiev­able and have a greater pop­u­la­tion-level effect than the more chal­leng­ing change from poor to opti­mal lev­els.”

The study was unable to doc­u­ment that lifestyle changes directly impact car­dio­vas­cu­lar health or reduce the over­all risk of demen­tia and cog­ni­tive decline. The car­dio­vas­cu­lar health of par­tic­i­pants was only mea­sured at the start of the study and could have changed over time, affect­ing their brain health.

A sep­a­rate study pub­lished in JAMA which exam­ined the same fac­tors on car­dio­vas­cu­lar health found that younger adults with opti­mal heart health expe­ri­enced fewer changes in the brain linked to cog­ni­tive prob­lems in later life.

Senior author, Paul Leeson from the UK’s University of Oxford told Reuters they had focused the study on young peo­ple, “because we thought that these changes in the blood ves­sels may occur before sig­nif­i­cant dam­age had occurred to the brain.”

Leeson added, “We were able to show that there are dif­fer­ences in the blood ves­sels related to lev­els of dif­fer­ent risk fac­tors and that these dif­fer­ences are evi­dent in young adult­hood.”

That study looked at 125 par­tic­i­pants with an aver­age age of 25. For each addi­tional rec­om­men­da­tion they fol­lowed for opti­mal heart health the sub­jects were found to have health­ier blood ves­sels and a greater den­sity of blood ves­sels in the brain.

Fifty-two of the par­tic­i­pants had blood flow in their brain mea­sured and it was found that with each addi­tional opti­mal heart health rec­om­men­da­tion achieved, the blood pump­ing through the brain increased sig­nif­i­cantly.

Consumption of olive oil has long been asso­ci­ated with improv­ing heart health. A 2014 study con­firmed that phe­no­lic com­pounds found in plant-based foods includ­ing olive oil were ben­e­fi­cial to car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and reduced the risk of devel­op­ing heart dis­ease.

A more recent a study con­ducted in 2016 con­firmed that the Mediterranean Diet rich in olive oil was effec­tive in improv­ing brain func­tion, slow­ing cog­ni­tive decline and reduc­ing the risk of Alzheimer’s.


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